Silver Wordsmith: An author's journey
“You’re doing well,” Rzena said when the two of them were alone, and Angzal knew she had all his sympathy even though the tone of his voice was meant to project the exact opposite.
“I’m going to get us reassigned,” Angzal said without lifting her head from the table.
“Perhaps, but I’m pretty sure I won’t be included in that.”
“I’m sure I’ll discover a way to take you down with me.”
She opened her eyes to the wood grain of the table staring back at her. Was this faux wood or real? It was hard to say given that even though they had trees on Mrabr, and had used them for furniture and decoration, they were, of course, vastly different species. The colour would have been different, and the pattern itself. Everything here that wasn’t fully foreign was different, sometimes in an uncanny undecipherable way like this tabletop. Angzal wished it was proper for her to unbind her tail, let it twitch and rage in a full display of what she was feeling inside.
“What do you think they’re discussing right now?” Rzena asked, bringing Angzal back to the room.
“I don’t know, probably strategizing on how to get the whole Mraboran Protectorate into a war with the Thorian Empire over a single unremarkable planet.”
“Maybe they’re busy looking for the next flight to Mrabr so she could present her case there personally.”
“She would succeed, too. All they’d have to do is spend fifteen minutes in the room with her and those cowards will be shoving babies into torpedo tubes.”
Angzal lifted her head, looked out the window. The sun had only just begun to set, tempering the outside colours with the blues of early twilight. She envied Ferrety, who was out there, breathing in the fresh salt air blowing in from the bay, instead of sitting here just in case Reyes returned early only to announce that she decided to keep being a problem after all.
“Do you believe any of that?” Rzena asked. “What you said about the Protectorate and our people in general?” Was Rzena asking because he agreed or because it offended him? It was never easy to tell with Rzena.
“I said what I said to get the result our people needed,” Angzal answered.
“Sure, yes, you said it, but did you believe it?”
“Does it matter if I believed it or not?” She was both annoyed that he kept asking and that she didn’t actually have an answer. “Who knows? You say something enough times you start believing it.” The cut on Rzena’s brow was not well-healed but was well-hidden by his fur, and attracted no attention from any of the three Humans who’d been in the room with him. He missed only a single day of work, and when he returned, neither of them talked about what happened during the protest. “Rzena, you’ve been doing this for fifteen years. How tired do you feel?”
“You know when you hadn’t eaten for far too long, and the sharpness of hunger gives way to a numb emptiness? It’s kind of like that.”
Ferrety returned punctually, twenty-eight minutes after Reyes called her half-hour break, but Reyes herself did not afford them the same kind of courtesy. They waited for her mostly in silence, the pool of small talk having been exhausted, but also because they had to steel themselves for whatever onslaught Reyes would return with.
There was something Angzal noticed about Ferrety during that time, glancing at him while the Martian Congressmember was absorbed in his tablet, and that was that the longer you looked at him, the more it seemed like he wasn’t actually there. There was, even when measured against her own limited experiences, something not quite Human about him. It could have been just that she was used to Earth Humans, and not “rockhoppers” as those from Earth referred to the colonists, or it simply could have been that this was the longest day of her life.
Finally, Reyes returned, nearly an hour after she left, and in typical Reyes fashion offered no apologies for her lateness.
Tani Naomi took a seat, but did not pull out his tablet, instead folding his hands in front of him on the table. This was going to be short. So short that Reyes did not bother to sit before she spoke.
“I can’t vote in favour of this – what is in my opinion, completely insane – proposal.” She then lowered herself into her chair, her eyes on her notes, and Angzal wondered why she would even bother sitting down rather than just walking out of the room. It was something in Tani’s face though, how his eyes wondered around the room but didn’t make eye contact, even though the corners of his mouth twitched upwards ever so slightly, that suggested more was coming. Congressmember Reyes settled in her chair, put her arms in front of her on the table and intertwined her fingers. “I do, however, also believe that even insanity deserves to be heard.” She paused, chewed on her lip and gave her assistant the briefest of sideways glances. “I will instruct my block that they can have a free vote on this.” Ferrety nodded with restraint while Angzal felt her own spine slacken. “I don’t know if this will get you the votes you need to tip the balance. Honestly, I doubt it.”
Was this victory? It certainly didn’t feel like defeat. Far more than she expected mere seconds ago but miles from what she’d hoped for. Reyes, though, was not quite done.
“I will let my caucus have a free vote on this, but I will first call for an amendment to reduce the size of the fleet to half of what is currently being proposed. It’s senseless to commit nearly the entirety of our forces to something where other species won’t lift a finger.”
Judging by his expression, Gord Ferrety was going through the same motions as Angzal – relief, annoyance, frustration, trying to forcibly remind oneself to be happy that, in the end, this was better than nothing.
“Thank you, Congressmember,” Ferrety said a little stiffly, “I look forward to working with you on this initiative.”
“I will not be working on any initiative. And there is no need to thank me. There’s no need to feel any kind of satisfaction from this. This has been nothing but a symptom of a failure, and it would be a shame to have reached the stars after so long, only to be slapped back down to the ground. Now if you’ll excuse me,” Reyes said, standing up again, though her hands were still leaning on the table, “A have a Congressional session to prepare for.” Without further fuss, she turned to leave the room, paying no more attention to either Angzal or Congressmember Ferrety.
Only Tani, just as he was about to step out of the door, flashed Angzal a small smile, nodded, and said “Deputy Consul”. Watching him leave, Angzal wondered how someone so seemingly pleasant could be working with Reyes.
“Well I think our work here is done,” Ferrety said, all tension now drained out of him like bad blood.
“Yes, more like ‘done for’,” Angzal answered.
“Oh, cheer up, Deputy Consul. Congressmember Reyes can be very stubborn when she passionately believes in her version of what is right. I think all things considered, we did as well as we could have hoped.”
Angzal saw that the sun had already set, so she offered Ferrety to arrange an escort back to his hotel.
“No, that’s quite alright,” Ferrety said, “I can find my way just fine, maybe take in more of the city before I turn in for the night.” She’d wonder later, what it was that she had seen, if it was anything at all, that brief flash in his small black eyes, as if again he was phasing out of actually being there in the room with them.
With the Humans gone, the conference room now felt huge. Rzena had turned off his tablet and was looking out into the darkness of the window. Did it remind him of that night a week ago? Did it make him hesitant to make the final decision to leave and walk through the evening streets of Malbur back to his apartment? It did for Angzal, and she didn’t want to have been alone in thinking it.
“See you back here tomorrow?” she asked finally, and for a long moment he didn’t answer, and didn’t even look at her.
“And tomorrow and tomorrow,” Rzena added and rose from the table.
Michael is a husband, father of two, lawyer, writer, and is currently working on his first novel, at a snail's pace. A very leisurely snail. All opinions are author's own.